CPRW, The Welsh Countryside Charity, has claimed that the new Developments of National Significance planning system, developed to fast-track renewable energy projects, is not fit for purpose.

The Developments of National Significance (DNS) planning system, introduced by the Welsh Government in 2016, is a type of planning application for large infrastructure projects of national importance, including all ground based solar and onshore wind developments of more than 10MW capacity. CPRW, one of the oldest charities in Wales, established to protect the Welsh countryside for future generations, says that the process is not fit for purpose due to insufficient resources being provided to the body overseeing the applications, Planning Environment Department Wales (PEDW) which has resulted in a chaotic and jumbled process which leases members of the public confused and ill advised.

Spokesperson for CPRW, Ross Evans, says that PEDW cannot cope with the level of application before them.

In recent discussions with members of staff at PEDW, they have admitted to CPRW that they are struggling with the level of applications going through the system and just can’t cope.”

“PEDW staff are doing their best to stay on top of everything, but it is all just too much!” said Evans.

For members of the public looking to find out more about a proposal in their area, there is but one source of official information, the DNS casework Portal on PEDW’s website. CPRW have pointed out several inaccuracies on the casework portal to PEDW, from inaccurate project websites, lack of updating to the progress of proposals, or the fact that the portal itself is hard to navigate, rarely updated, and that proposal pages are impossible to share.

In a recent  analysis of the 83 cases on the Portal the ‘status’ of almost half are wrongly described, leading to a situation where members of the public would be fundamentally misled about the proposals concerned.

“CPRW has pointed out multiple issues with the casework portal to PEDW. Astonishingly they admitted to us in response that:

 “We [PEDW] aim to keep the website up to date but we have an unprecedented number of DNS applications before us and need to direct resources where they are most needed.” – PEDW

“Given the casework portal is the only official place for members of the public to get information on applications – this is frankly shocking and an abuse of the democratic process” said Evans.

The DNS application process was brought in by the Welsh Government to streamline the planning process for large projects. This effectively took the decision-making away from Local Authorities.

“CPRW have long argued that the DNS process has a deficit of democracy, taking the decision-making away from elected councillors and handing them over to a government department.

“PEDW have already admitted they cannot cope with the level of applications before them so how are we supposed to believe they can make adequate assessments of application to ensure they take into account both the views of the community and the plight of nature?!” added Evans.

CPRW has asked PEDW for geospatial data, or to produce a map of all the current applications. As they have been unable to do so themselves, CPRW members have painstakingly plotted and annotated a map of Wales to show all the current proposals for onshore wind and ground-based solar.

“In the absence of an official map to show the scale of applications facing the Welsh countryside, our members have produced a clear indication of what can only be called the industrialisation of our countryside.

“One thing noticeable from our map is the fallacy of the Welsh Government’s Pre-Assessed Areas. Most applications are outside of these areas and, at least one foreign developer, has withdrawn a major application within one of these areas claiming it wasn’t suitable*.

“We will unveil this map, which shows the looming industrialisation of our countryside, at our stall at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show 2023 taking place next week.” said Evans.

The CPRW stall at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show 2023 is directly behind the Welsh Government building in the Countryside Care section, pop along to see the map, have a cuppa and a friendly chat about what CPRW are fighting to save.